In my previous post I talked about the various things that got me involved with Death in June (DI6) and the neofolk scene. Now I’m going to talk about the things that got me out.
I was always uncomfortable with some of the DI6 lyrics. At first I tried to brush it off as my failure to “get” the metaphor, or that the songs were referencing other thing (like “because I him”, where the line “helping one race, one creed, to meet their need” is a reference to either Heaven’s Gate or the Brian Jonestown thing).
The next step was to try and self justify, to tell myself that there was nothing wrong with the social Darwinism that seemed to permeate everything. Honestly, that’s the pout where I should have realize that something was wrong. I was facing a huge amount of cognitive dissonance at this point, trying to hold on to my own value structure while simultaneously attempting to accept the right-libertarianism that appears all over the genre.
I’m kind of disappointed in myself that I just accepted feeling conflicted about the disconnect instead of actively questioning what was going on.
One of the things that delayed my move away from DI6 and the neofolk scene was the actions of their critics. I don’t have much respect for direct action Antifa types, and the accusations leveled against Boyd Rice, Douglas P, and others in the scene were so ridiculous as I be impossible to take seriously. Antifa does more to protect there opponents than they ever actually accomplish.
Just as there were musical and social reasons behind why I got into neofolk in the first place, there were also musical and social reasons behind why I “left”.
Musically, I attempted to resolve my discomfort with DI6 by seekin out other music that was satisfying in the same way but less problematic. I started doing this almost immediately, even while insisting that there was nothing problematic about DI6.
The first thing I found was Current 93. I know there are former neofolk fans that won’t listen to C93 because of David Tibet’s connections to Sol Invictus and DI6, I didn’t find nearly as much to bother me in Current 93’s music (especially once David Michael/Tibet and Douglas P had their falling out).
Part of why I found Current 93 more acceptable was that I was much more familiar with the philosophical sources they were drawing from. I wasn’t bothered by “Hitler as Kalki” because I had read enough at that point and while I can understand why the comparison is incredibly troubling from the perspective of mainstream Hinduism (conflating Hitler and Vishnu would be mindbogglingly offensive) that’s not ever how I understood the song, and David Michael/Tibet has gone to great lengths to explain it.
Still, it’s my least favorite track on that album so that’s another reason why I wasn’t so bothered.
Tibet’s connections with the OTO and thelema were way easier for me to accept than Douglas P’s Germanic paganism. The fact that David Michael eventually left the OTO helped too.
Current 93 seemed more interested in the aesthetics of weird religion than they did in perpetuating a dream of a bygone Europa. Still, C93’s more psychedelic style (in the releases I could find. This was before Bandcamp and relatively early in the iTunes era, so neofolk was hard to come by outside of mail order CDs for $60 a pop) wasn’t quite as satisfying as DI6 was.
I finally found something to replace DI6 when I started looking more heavily into French music. A student lent me the first La rue kétanou album and I was instantly hooked. That lead to Les ogres de barback and Les hurlements d’Léo and a whole wealth f French music that had everything I lined about DI6 with none of the uncomfortable lyrics. Un air, deux families is still one of my favorite albums of all time.
I also started to seek out Chinese rock and came across Liang Long’s Second Hand Rose, which helped to make it increasingly clear that it was possible to combine traditional music with rock without introducing reactionary politics.
I still occasionally returned to DI6, although without much enthusiasm. I rarely listened to whole albums anymore, picking out those tracks that seemed less problematic. I later discovered that the DI6 song I continued to listen to were the exact same ones that David Michael continues to listen to.
The final musical nail in the DI6 coffin came from my brother in law, who introduced me to the burgeoning folk-punk scene. Pat the bunny, Andrew Jackson Jihad, and similar groups supplanted the last remaining vestiges of DI6 in my musical rotation. I still wasn’t 100% comfortable with all of their lyrics, but it was an uncomfortableness that was easier to pin down and examin.
Socially the biggest factor in my move away from neofolk was an increased widening of my social network to include people who didn’t order their lives around their musical tastes.
A graduated and moved away and I started spending time with L, a friendship that I have since neglected to my regret.
L was a member of the OTO an regular participant in the gnostic mass. They also actively avoided Death in June because they were uncomfortable about the content and, more significantly, they felt like because of their appearance and very German surname they felt it would be best to avoid even the appearance of impropriety, regardless of whether or not DI6’s use of Nazi imagery was in earnest.
At the time I shrugged and continued to be a DI6 fan, albeit a slightly uncomfortable one. I felt like L’s concerns were overblown. Still, with L I had a friend who shared my interests in weird religion who wasn’t particularly connected with the neofolk scene.
It helped that A started waxing poetic about Whitehouse, which made me realize that his far right stances weren’t just bitterness or an attempt to shock people; they were his sincere political views.
Also around this time I started traveling much more. I spent time in China, Japan, and France. These were major formative experiences for me, and the people I met and the things I did made it really clear to me that the survival of the fittest ideology prevalent in neofolk really wasn’t for me.
I became much more confident, philosophically, and came to the realization that vulnerability is not necessarily bad. I decided that empathy was not in fact a weakness, and that weakness was not bad in itself anyways. I also really internalized the saying “when walking in the melon patch, don’t bend down to adjust your sandals”. It was a sayin I had never really understood before, but it became my own version of “avoiding even the appearance of impropriety”.
The fact that I was able to avoid internalizing that lesson until I was in my 20s really points to how privileged I am. My brother was forced to come to terms with it while still in high school.
The other thing that drove me away from DI6 was Douglas P himself. I read an interview with him after The rule of thirds was released where he talked about the inspiration behind the songs on the album. His explanation of the track “Takeyya”, which I had interpreted as a criticism of closemindedness, revealed that it was the opposite, and that Douglas P was aggressively Islamophobic.
Then, I read another interview where Douglas P repeated most of the standard racist canards about aboriginal Australians. When he released the Free Tibet EP, his comments about being adamantly opposed to forgiveness really bothered me.
Let me make this clear: I don’t think Douglas P is a neonazi or white supremacist. I do think that he’s a racist neoreactionary peddling a dangerous ideology.
There’s a lot of wiggle room between “neonazi” and “not problematic”. The “is he a nazi or not?” game that gets played regarding DI6 (and pretty much everywhere else in the neofolk scene) ends up being counterproductive, as the neonazi charge is too easy to refute and ignores that the work is still problematic for other reasons.
To draw a comparison to criminal prosecutions, looking for clues about white supremacy in DI6 is the equivalent of charging a murderer with treason: it enables them to get away with lesser crimes because it puts all the focus on the big crime that is easier to defend against.
My next post I’ll look a little more at rejecting an artist because of their beliefs, and how acceptable it is I be a fan of problematic things.